Five storylines to follow this week as the New York Giants prepare for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
1. “Undefeated” Giants host No. 1 offense. The Giants went into the bye week with a 1-7 record and came out 1-0. That’s the way they are attacking the second half of the season, which began with a 27-23 comeback victory over the 49ers on Monday night. The season within a season continues this Sunday with a visit from the 3-6 Buccaneers, the fourth and final NFC South opponent on the Giants’ schedule. Despite its record and changes at the most important position (more on that later), Tampa Bay is first in the NFL in passing and total yards per game. The Buccaneers, however, are 12th in scoring, highlighted by a 501-yard, three-point showing in last week’s loss to the Redskins.
2. Eli putting questions to rest. Coming out of the bye week, coach Pat Shurmur was asked if Eli Manning would be the starting quarterback for the Giants on Monday night against San Francisco. The answer was an affirmative, but that only led to more questions about beyond Week 10. “You roll with it how you want,” Shurmur added, “with the idea that he’s going to get us on a run here and there will be no decisions to be made.” Manning went out and engineered the 36th game-winning drive of his career, 41st including postseason. There were no such questions in the wake of the game.
“I think it’s a coordinated effort, and certainly Eli had a winning performance,” Shurmur said. “When a guy plays the whole game like the quarterback and the O-line do, they’re all going to have a play or two they want back, but I think in total, the combination of having more time to throw the ball along with being a little bit more accurate on some throws, the results were much better.”
3. O-line coming off best performance. The offensive line also helped to put the quarterback questions to rest. Manning was sacked 31 times in the first eight games. In the ninth, he was taken down just once and not until the fourth quarter. The offense also found some balance with the run game as rookie Saquon Barkley ran a career-high 20 times as the Giants broke in their ninth different starting offensive lineman of the season. Jamon Brown, acquired off waivers from the Rams heading into the Giants’ bye week, lined up at right guard. Shurmur said after the game it was the unit’s best performance of the season. The tape confirmed that.
“I thought [Brown] did a good job,” Shurmur said. “I thought for the most part our pass protection was as good as it’s been this year. They really challenged themselves, [San Francisco] sacked Oakland a bunch of times [the week before] and they have really an outstanding front, so I thought in general the O-line pass protection was really good. I thought he did some of the things we thought he could do. He’s very firm, he gets his hands on you, and I thought he played well.”
4. Special teams providing a lift. Special teams can get lost even in the best of seasons, but coordinator Thomas McGaughey’s unit shouldn’t be overlooked after Monday night. Newcomer and former first-round draft choice Corey Coleman broke a 51-yard kickoff return. Quadree Henderson, who has the Giants’ longest punt return of the season, is back after some roster maneuvering led to him being released, added to the practice squad and then activated in the span of four days. Kicker Aldrick Rosas remained perfect on the road and has missed just one field goal attempt this season. Riley Dixon is fourth in the NFL in net punting average (42.1 yards) and downed three inside the 20 last week, including one where he pinned the 49ers at their own eight-yard line. B.J. Goodson then intercepted Nick Mullens, and the offense turned it into a touchdown on the short field. That’s what coaches mean when they talk about complementary football.
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5. JPP and FitzMagic come to town. General manager Dave Gettleman has shown he is not afraid to make trades. A month before the 2018 NFL Draft, he sent Jason Pierre-Paul, a mainstay at defensive end for eight seasons and an integral member of the 2011 championship team, to the Buccaneers in exchange for a third-round draft choice, which the Giants used to select B.J. Hill. Pierre-Paul, who is seventh on the Giants’ all-time sacks list, returns on Sunday for the first time in a different uniform.
“Honestly, I had this game checked off since I left there, so emotions running big,” Pierre-Paul said on a conference call with Giants reporters. “I’m coming, man. I’m bringing the house down.”
Meanwhile, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will play in his fourth different jersey against the Giants. Losing with the Bills (2011) and Texans (2014) and winning with the Jets (2015), he is 1-2 as a starter against Big Blue with five touchdowns to five interceptions. Fitzpatrick has started six games to former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston’s three this season, and Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter confirmed that the man nicknamed “FitzMagic” will remain the starter on Sunday.